You’ve seen them at many intersections and overpasses across the city.
They weave in and out of traffic at red lights, often dressed in team jerseys or uniforms, their sweet faces so hard to say no to.
They work in teams usually. There are the sign carriers. Sometimes the signs are pithy and drum up sympathy. Other times, the words on the poster boards are a scrawl so faint you can hardly decipher the exact message. One thing is unmistakable, though. They want money.
There’s the crew that works the cars. They carry buckets or some other big container. The goal is to reach as many cars as possible in the short amount of time vehicles are at a standstill before the light turns green and people return to the hustle and bustle of their lives.
HB 1158, by Representative Austin Badon, which will soon be signed into law by the governor, makes panhandling a misdemeanor punishable with a maximum fine of $200 and up to six months in jail. I’m not necessarily referring to the type of “panhandlers” Badon seeks to criminalize – hitchhikers or the homeless. I’m talking about the aggressive culture of youth panhandlers throughout the city.
The kids are put on the streets to raise money to support extracurricular activities, cheerleading or AAU basketball trips, they say. I’ve seen some inappropriately dressed on street corners like young girls wearing booty shorts and tops exposing their midriffs. I’ve seen some twerking on street corners to attract motorists’ attention.
After a tap on your car window or after making eye contact, if you don’t roll down your window to give to their cause, I’ve seen some get snippy, use profanity even.
A few years ago, when my son played baseball for NORD, in lieu of practice one afternoon, the coach directed us to an intersection where the team was expected to shake the can. My son did not participate in this team assignment; a group of 8-year-old boys on the street begging for money. Having a chaperone nearby did not change my mind.
There is any number of safety hazards simultaneously occurring here. I’ve seen some dodge cars as they run back to the neutral ground to escape oncoming traffic. I’ve seen some not paying attention to the flow of traffic because they are too busy chatting with their friends. Not to mention, the dangers of children openly carrying cash on the street.
What lessons are we teaching the youth about the value of hard work by sending them out to beg? This is not fundraising. It’s badgering strangers for money.
Most times, I don’t doubt the veracity of the ask. I believe they are honestly trying to raise money to get to an out-of-state activity or fund some program. However, this method is questionable. It is troubling and problematic when we teach kids that it is ok to beg rather than work hard; or teach them to work hard at begging.
Apparently, this method does bring in the bucks because it’s so popular. But it’s a dirty little practice that blurs the lines between fundraising and begging. Fundraising is fundraising. Begging is begging.
There are many ways to fundraise; online, grant writing, partnering with businesses to share in the proceeds. Let’s train our youth to be savvy, money-getters. I relish the lemonade stand-premise, where kids are taught to start, own and operate their own enterprises.
I’ve supported more than my fair share of roadside car washes. I’ve purchased baked goods and candy and whatever trinkets they have made to sale. We should be fostering an entrepreneurial, business-minded spirit not encouraging them to walk around seeking a handout. Where is the creativity, innovation in youth panhandling?
I prefer the methods where supporters receive something in return, where a dollar is earned not bummed.
jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.